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These Two Documentaries Are Two of 2019’s Best Movies

He said it, I didn’t. Back in June, Sean Fennessey wondered on The Ringer’s Big Picture podcast whether 2019 was the Worst Movie Summer Ever, a question worth asking, considering the increasing omnipresence of franchise-branded movies and their impact on the visibility and viability of anything without an Avenger in it. The long-term effects of the Mouse monopoly on Western pop culture’s most valuable intellectual properties (with Marvel and Star Wars as the equivalent of putting hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk) won’t be fully known for a while, but the possibilities are fully dystopian: Imagine a reboot stamping on a human face, forever.

In the meantime, the best way to cope with the declining quality of big films is to seek out smaller ones—to look for quality on the margins. As disappointing a year as 2019 has been for mainstream entertainments, it’s yielded more than its share of solid and even extraordinary nonfiction features, two of which have just been released in theaters and could end up as contenders for year-end 10-best lists.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

At one point in Cold Case Hammarskjöld, director-star Mads Brügger—a muckraking journalist slash performance artist who has drawn comparisons to Nick Broomfield and Sacha Baron Cohen—jokes that his new film is about “a conspiracy theory for senior citizens.” It’s a self-deprecating joke at the expense of a movie whose narrative is rooted in the history of the early 1960s, but it’s weird how the zeitgeist works. With the endless speculation that emerged in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, Cold Case Hammarskjöld’s wild postulations about secret political assassinations and biologically engineered viruses have a gripping, gruesome urgency: Watching it is like getting sucked into a Reddit thread at 3 in the morning.

Brügger’s collaborator here is a Swedish private investigator

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